The search intensifies for dozens buried in an Indonesian landslide that killed at least 23 people

The search for survivors in the deadly landslide in Palu, Indonesia has been intensified. Additional rescuers have been sent to an unauthorized gold mine on Sulawesi island where 23 deaths occurred over the weekend. The incident took place when more than 100 villagers were searching for gold in the remote village of Bone Bolango. Tons of mud suddenly slid down the hills, burying their temporary camps. So far, 81 villagers have managed to escape, with 18 of them being rescued with injuries. The search and rescue office reported the recovery of 23 bodies, including that of a 4-year-old boy, while 33 individuals remain missing. To strengthen the search efforts, over 1,000 personnel, including army troops, have been deployed.
According to him, the Indonesian Air Force will deploy a helicopter to expedite the rescue operation, which has been hindered by heavy rains, unstable soil, and difficult terrain.

Informal mining activities are widespread in Indonesia, offering a precarious source of income for thousands of workers who face significant risks of injury or death. Miners encounter hazards such as landslides, flooding, and tunnel collapses. Additionally, the processing of gold ore often involves the use of highly toxic mercury and cyanide, with workers often lacking proper protective measures.

The most recent major mining-related accident in the country took place in April 2022. A landslide occurred at an illegal gold mine in the Mandailing Natal district of North Sumatra, resulting in the tragic deaths of 12 women who were searching for gold.
For years, environmental activists have been advocating for the closure of operations like this throughout the country, particularly in Sulawesi where the practice has been growing. The recent landslide has reignited their protests.

Muhammad Jamil, the head of the legal division of the Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM), an environmental watchdog, stated, “The local government’s allowance of illegal gold mining activities in this area has contributed to this deadly disaster.” He further explained that the responsibility for gold mining extends from those involved on the ground all the way up to officials in the local council and even the police.

Jamil also highlighted the presence of a mafia network that appears to have protected the miners from law enforcement, allowing them to destroy protected forests. He emphasized the damaging impact on natural resources such as rivers, forests, land, and the sea, which ultimately leads to a significant economic loss for the country.
According to Ferdy Hasiman, a mining and energy researcher at Alpha Research and Datacenter, the widespread presence of pit mines has been consistently identified as a cause of environmental harm in upstream regions. This, in turn, worsens the occurrence of flooding and landslides in downstream areas.

Hasiman stressed that if illegal mining and deforestation practices persist, the problem of flash floods and landslides will continue. He called upon both local and central government authorities to intensify their efforts in closing down illegal gold mining operations nationwide.